Seed Heads

I’ve had these seed heads on my desk since the summer. I collected them while working in various gardens. The first seed is Clematis pitcheri, commonly called purple clematis, purple leatherflower, or bluebill. Here’s a link to photos of the lovely nodding purple flowers. This clematis is a climbing, twining vine that begins with purple flowers that turn into fluffy Dr. Seuss-looking puffs and then into these stunning seed heads. The star shaped head is fragile, with the individual paddle-shaped seeds breaking off the stem.

The second seed head is from the Hibiscus dasycalyx, or the Netches River Rosemallow. It is a hibiscus that is native to Texas, and is protected because it is only found wild in 3 places along the Netches River. It has beautiful white flowers with red centers. You can see photos here. It grows in wet conditions. The seeds are sweet fuzzy teddy bears and I’m officially scared of screwing up their propagation.

I also saved some Asclepias purpurascens that I’ve put in the fridge to stratify. They are over year old, so I’m not too hopeful. Reference pictures here. I love milkweeds and always try to propagate and distribute them to fellow gardeners.

Is it obvious that I’m dreaming of Spring?

Pre-Holiday Reading

zero wasteI would like to recommend a book to read before holiday shopping mania grips everyone. It’s Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson. Some of you may be familiar with her blog. If you aren’t, I would suggest popping over there. It’s worth it.

What is Zero Waste? It is an attempt to create zero garbage. It is a daunting proposition, but Bea talks about her own experience with a wry sense of humor that I found particularly engaging. When anyone proposes something so radically different from what society considers normal, it is hard not to sound preachy, however I think that Bea skillfully walks the line between being fervent about her topic, and funny while describing her road there.

At the beginning of her story, Bea talks about her family’s desire to downsize their home and simplify their lives as a part of their growing environmental awareness. They moved into a smaller home, and while their belongings were in storage, they realized they were happier without all their “stuff”. They decided to keep only what they truly used, needed and loved and got rid of the rest.

Zero Waste Home is packed with ideas and suggestions for how to simplify your home room-by-room. It gives great recipes for cleaners and even make-up. There are links to many resources including one devoted to all the uses of vinegar.

She knows that she raises eyebrows when she walks into her Whole Foods with glass containers and cloth bags with the tare weight printed on them, politely asking for no packaging. Her choices of products may be limited to what is available in the bulk section, but she is okay with that. She is very clear that Zero Waste doesn’t mean that she recycles all of her waste. She tries not to produce any in the first place. In one year the average American produces 1,051 lbs of garbage, while Bea’s family produces one quart. That is pretty compelling!

Does she go too far? She describes being a bit of a zealot at first and then realizing the negative repercussions of this zealotry and pulling back a little. The example she brings forward (with her self-deprecating humor) is that in the beginning, she used to forage moss to use as toilet paper.  Her family has gone back to using toilet paper, which has brought forth critics saying she doesn’t go far enough toward Zero Waste. Again, when you put yourself out there, you are exposing yourself to scrutiny and criticism. I imagine that most people would not be able to maintain her level of commitment. It is something that everyone in a household needs to be on board with for it to work on her level.

One of the ideas that I really appreciated was her addition of “Refuse” to the 3 Rs (recycle, renew, reuse). What if we work diligently to prevent this landslide of stuff from entering our homes in the first place? How about if we don’t take the free shampoos hotels offer?  Or the corporate t-shirts that nobody ever wears? What if we take the time and remove ourselves from junk mailing lists? We won’t be faced with the dilemma of what to do with that stuff once we are home. And hopefully fewer of these items will be made in the first place.

Bea goes on to describe how much happier, healthier and even wealthier her family is now that they aren’t burdened down with a huge house (to clean and furnish), giant lawn (to mow) and loads of possessions. She is encouraging and helpful in giving ideas and suggestions for how to begin the journey towards a Zero Waste lifestyle. She has even developed a mapping app that helps locate bulk food stores around the world.

I recommend reading her book as a way to stave off some of the holiday shopping frenzy. I have been sewing gift bags from my fabric stash as an alternative to one-use wrapping paper.

So in the interest of Zero Waste, I would like to pass my copy of her book along to you. Please leave a comment about what you are doing, or are planning to do to help reduce your waste. I will pick someone at random on Black Friday (11/29), so leave your comment before then.

NYC is now recycling all rigid plastic!

Plastic Perils
I’m very excited about  the addition to NYC’s recycling program to include for the first time the recycling of all rigid plastics, including toys, hangers, shampoo bottles, coffee cups and food containers. The expansion of plastics recycling – which began April 24th – is part of the City’s Solid Waste Management Plan and is made possible, in part, through a partnership with SIMS Municipal Recycling whose recycling facilities are equipped to handle the broad range of plastic recycling. The recycling expansion will result in more than 50,000 additional tons of waste a year no longer ending up in landfills at a savings to City taxpayers of almost $600,000 each year in export costs, and for rigid plastics, it is recommended that New Yorkers should rinse and recycle it. The City will also expand the organics recycling pilot under way in public schools in Brooklyn and Manhattan to residents in the Westerleigh neighborhood of Staten Island next month, to other neighborhoods this fall and to all City schools over the next two years. The food waste composting pilot cut the amount of garbage participating schools sent to landfills by up to 38 percent. Both programs are part of the City’s effort to make recycling easier for New Yorkers. Earlier this year, in his State of the City speech, Mayor Bloomberg promised an expansion of the recycling program, renewing the Administration’s commitment to doubling the City’s recycling rate to 30 percent by 2017.

This information came from the city. While this is a huge step forward in the city’s recycling program, I’m still shocked that we’re aiming towards a goal of 30% recycling.

I remember *years* ago going to San Francisco and noticing that they have baskets on their public trash cans where you could drop your recyclable drink bottles and cans. It made a tremendous amount of sense and I could never figure out why a great city like NYC couldn’t do something so simple. The city would never even need to pick up the recyclables, because the city’s homeless and impoverished would scoop them up for the $.05 deposit. Honestly this city’s best recyclers are our homeless!


Last Minute Gift for the Planet

Do you ever stop and think about all the mail-order catalogs that arrive at your home? Then you think about all those catalogs going to all your neighbors and friends and family and it seems overwhelming. Many companies try and use recycled paper, or paper from managed sources. However, there are still plenty of companies buying paper made from the trees of endangered forests in Canada, the US, etc. Peek here to read about a group called Forest Ethics and how they are trying to protect the endangered forests.

Besides recycling those catalogs, you can very easily stop them from coming to your home in the first place. In the past, if you wanted to stop the catalogs, you had to call each company, navigate through their phone system and convince the person on the phone to take you off their list. Not anymore! Catalog Choice has arrived to do all the work for you. For free I might add.

Just click to go to their website. You set up an account (they don’t sell your name to others, because that’s exactly what they are trying to help you with). Then you find companies in their database who are sending you unwanted mail. You just opt-out of receiving mail from them and Catalog Choice does the work contacting them.

Sometimes companies print up to 6 catalogs at a time, so it might take a few weeks/months before you stop receiving them. Just be patient and know that you are making a big difference. They even show you how many trees, pounds of greenhouse gas, pounds of solid waste and gallons of water you have saved by opting out of your particular catalogs. I’m a total sucker for those stats!

Happy Holidays! Please share your ideas for gifts for the planet.

Reusable Gift Bags

Each year I think about all the wrapping paper that gets used and tossed during the holidays. It makes me shiver thinking about all the trees that went into such a one-off item. Since we celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas, it is on my mind twice this month. We have the Hanukkah bag that Lindsay opens each night. She doesn’t seem to miss the wrapping paper one little big. I haven’t ever gotten nearly organized enough to make loads of bags for Christmas. I aspire to be that organized, but honestly, I’m just trying to get all my knitting and shopping done in time for Christmas morning.

In case you are as horrified as I am at the idea of using wrapping paper, and you have some time to make beautiful gift bags, here are some links. This link is for the bag you see above. It is beautiful and looks super fancy. Nobody would feel disappointed over the loss of wrapping paper with it. Here are instructions for a much simpler bag.

And here are simple instructions from Japan’s Ministry of the Environment for wrapping gifts using a piece of fabric. How great is that?!? And how many of you have struggled over how to wrap a watermelon. Admit it.